leadership dot #2938: slow-cooked

If COVID taught us nothing else, it made it clear that things are able to change much more quickly than we had accepted in the past. We’ve become microwave decision-makers – altering long-standing policies and practices at record speeds. Between the virus and race revolution, things such as to-go cocktail regulations, virtual notarizing, working from home, NASCAR policies, decades-old brand packaging, statue displays, and even state flags have changed more quickly than you can zap a pizza. Which is good…

…and it’s not.

I am cautious about this lightning speed of altered direction. I have always valued a bit of time to ponder the implications of a decision – almost anyone can convince you that something is a good idea if they are only presenting a singular point of view. The real trick in decision making comes in when the decider has to wrestle with multiple points of view and long-term consequences of the choice, something that is difficult to do under pressure or without the opportunity to hear different perspectives.

I get it that people want things to change quickly – not just on the current big social issues, but in general, an answer never comes soon enough for those wanting the choice to be made. But having to reverse a decision when new facts come to light makes it worse for everyone. There is untold wasted energy, the leader loses credibility and a wishy-washy culture inhibits others from putting the next idea forward or speaking up.

If you’re the leader, be intentional about the expectations you set around making decisions in your organization. Some things are better when they are slow-cooked instead of microwaved.

leadership dot #2925: contribute

In my class last night, we discussed a case entitled “Just Trying to Help.” A manager was assigned a new project, and another manager had previous experience with something similar. The core question was whether he should speak up and offer his input. Most agreed that he should. But at what point does it become “butting in” when he should back off and let the current manager take the project in the direction she prefers, even if it seems destined to fail?

I included the case in my syllabus because I think it’s a central question for many of the aspiring managers who are enrolled in my course. On one hand, it’s natural to want to help but if the culture isn’t receptive to cross-collaboration by speaking up you could be labeled as interfering or worse. I have been in too many situations where those who keep their mouths shut and continue to do just their own work – however mediocre it may be – are rewarded with longevity in the organization instead of being chastised.

A key element is to consider how the “advice” can be framed as a genuine offer of help. Instead of making the recipient defensive, positioning it as an optional gift – a way to make them look good instead of you – can go a long way in furthering the conversation. By imparting a legitimate “take it or leave it” mentality – meaning that you truly are accepting if the recipient totally ignores the feedback you are sharing – can also help lessen resistance and open the door for sharing.

It reminded me of a teaching trick: instead of asking “Who has any questions?” professors are encouraged to rephrase it to “Ask me two questions.” It sets the expectation for dialogue. Similarly, managers assigning a new task can encourage collaboration by asking the group “Name someone not on the task force who has experience or resources that could help this project.”

The bottom line is that there needs to be openness in multiple dimensions: employees willing to take a risk to speak up and offer assistance; project managers receptive to input from multiple sources; and managers who create cultures open to making the organization stronger, no matter whose idea it is.


leadership dot #2902: plunger

What’s the number one item that you should have in your guest bathroom? According to Real Simple, the answer is a plunger. It’s certainly not what I would have put at the top of the list but it makes sense: it’s something that could become necessary and it’s the most embarrassing thing to ask for. The magazine recommends that you preempt any awkwardness and just have it there from the start.

I think about what is the equivalent to the plunger for new employees. Give them a list of key colleagues (preferably with a picture and an office layout map). Reintroduce them at meetings to preclude a lapse of memory of who’s who, especially in this time of remote meetings where every square looks the same. Share office norms such as typical attire, arrival/departure times and time off procedures so they don’t stand out or need to ask.

We’ve all been in a situation where having an accessible plunger was a blessing. Treat your new employees with the same care as you treat your guests and proactively provide them with the tools they may need before they sheepishly have to ask for them.

leadership dot #2889: changing demands

Yesterday’s dot covered Gallup’s research finding that “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.” Yowza! If you’re that critical as a manager, what should you do in your role?

Fortunately, Gallup also outlines six steps to align the culture with the new way of work that appeals to everyone, but especially Millennials and Generation Z. Successful managers should work to create a culture that addresses these changing demands of the workforce:

From My Paycheck to My Purpose
Employees want to work for organizations with a mission and purpose.

From My Satisfaction to My Development
Employees are pursuing a job that provides personal development as the prized perk.

From My Boss to My Coach
Forget the domineering boss; employees today want leaders to help coach and develop them.

From My Annual Review to My Ongoing Conversations
Everything in life is instantaneous, and employees today want their feedback to be as well.

From My Weakness to My Strengths
Of course, Gallup, the creator of the Strengths movement would recommend this, but whether you pursue the official Strengths assessment or just focus more on positive development, employees today want to build on their strengths vs. focusing on weaknesses.

From My Job to My Life
A great job is the #1 dream, but to achieve that it means having both a paycheck and fulfilling work. Having a great job has become an essential element of having a great life.

Pause for a moment and consider where you stand on these six spectrums. Really, they boil down to two key elements: purpose (#1 & 6) and personal development (#2, 3, 4, 5). Where do you shine as a manager? What area deserves more of your attention? You could make a significant impact on your team by moving toward the new way of managing – and probably enjoy work much more.

Source: It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter, Gallup Press, 2019

leadership dot #2888: manager

One of the world’s leading research firms conducted a massive study about the future of work, including tens of millions of in-depth interviews of employees and managers across 160 countries. And what did they learn: “Of all the codes Gallup has been asked to crack dating back 80 years to our founder, George Gallup, the single most profound, distinct and clarifying finding – ever – is probably this one: 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.”

It’s a fact that I’ve believed for a long time and experienced as both an employee and as a supervisor – the manager makes all the difference. “Clever benefit packages, new scoring systems, free lunches and on-site volleyball courts are great. But they don’t change growth outcomes. Only improving your ratio of great to lousy managers does,” write Jim Clifton and Jim Harter in their book on Gallup’s research. “Usually, there isn’t a single lever to create change. In this case, there is: It’s the manager.”

Gallup also learned that the great global dream – higher than having a family, children, home and peace – is to have a good job that provides a living-wage paycheck. For it to be seen as a great job, you need the paycheck that a good job provides plus you must be engaged in meaningful and fulfilling work and feel you are “experiencing real individual growth and development in the workplace.” Thus, the primary job of the manager becomes increasing human potential as a method of organizational success.

Hopefully, you’ve been lucky enough to be among the 15% who feel engaged at work at some point in your career. Like those charts that show the spread of COVID-19, the manager’s influence permeates their team and changes the dynamics of the work. But it always comes down to the people – and putting the care of those people first. Taking care of them takes care of the outcomes that follow.

[More on Gallup’s 6 recommended changes tomorrow]

Source: It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter, Gallup Press, 2019

leadership dot #2877: mud

Those new to a position are often so eager to impress others that they fail to ask for help until it’s too late. It’s easy to believe that things “will get better” but they rarely do on their own. And “figuring it out” isn’t a great strategy either – if you knew how to do something or act, you would have done it already. As a result, what I see time and time again is that people flounder until they have dug themselves into a hole that is nearly impossible to dig out of.

The key to getting out of trouble as a new leader is staying out of trouble. Intentionally setting your expectations and cultivating a culture from the get-go instead of letting one emerge by default. Asking for help from the start. Paying for coaching on your own if necessary. Seeking out feedback from all sides (above, peers, supervisees) and making course corrections early in your tenure. Making time for personal reflection and learning from missteps as well as triumphs.

But the idea of staying ahead of the game applies in so many areas beyond supervision. It’s easier to maintain your health/mental health than to reclaim it. Easier to reach out to others and sustain relationships than to repair a broken one. Far better to curb spending and stay out of debt than to dig out after overspending. Easier to succeed if you work on your weight when you have a little to lose instead of a lot.

Once you are covered in figurative mud – from any malady – your initial investment of time and effort is diverted to first be to remove the mud before you can make any progress forward. So, if you’re sensing warning signs that things aren’t trending in your favor, ask for help right then. It’s much easier to let others keep you out of the hole instead of requiring them to dig you out of it later.

leadership dot #2876: clock building

Are you a clock builder or time teller?

In the book Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras outline the difference between the two: Having a great idea or being a charismatic leader is “time telling” but building a company that can last beyond any one person is “clock building.” It’s the difference between the realization of a great idea or the creation of a system that lives on for much longer than a single episode.

It is so tempting to be a time teller. You can have a great idea (or several), implement them and bask in the glory. Clock building is grunt work, often behind-the-scenes and you may or may not be around to realize its impact. But, and here’s the rub, it’s clock building that makes programs, systems and companies “built to last.”

The difference is often pronounced with new employees who want to make their mark. I remember a situation where one of my staff wanted to spend his time developing a whole variety of programs for college students – rather than creating the process, documentation and system for others who came after him to be able to do so. Doing the actual events was far more fun; creating a methodology was far more impactful.

As a supervisor, you need to be clear with your staff members what you are seeking from them: time telling or clock building. They have radically different timeframes and outcomes so it’s important to outline expectations and rewards. And if you’re the leader yourself, you need to keep your eye on the clock building prize, spending your time and energy on the infrastructure and long term (even now when just time telling can be challenging). Individually we like to be the ones who can tell time but remember that a clock maker made it possible for all of us to do.

Source:  Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 1994, p. 22-23

leadership dot #2827: intangibles

I talked with a colleague recently who is having some supervision challenges. Her employee is “good at what he’s doing, but not good at what I need him to do.” Ah, the dilemma.

It is so much easier to correct an employee who is not performing well at all. That conversation is often clear and to the point: Do X if you want to remain employed. But counseling an employee who is doing something well is often more challenging because, more likely than not, what they are not doing can be classified as an intangible.

Supervisors often have a difficult time describing their expectations for the “I’s”: instinct, initiative and integrity. They adopt an “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” mentality which is unfair to the employee who has a very different perspective of what that looks like. Expecting people to lead, exhibit good judgment or be proactive in their work are inherently nebulous concepts but it is incumbent on the supervisor to provide clarity to them.

If you’re onboarding a new employee, spend disproportionate time in talking about your expectations for these intangibles. Give concrete examples of good and bad. Help the employee understand the importance of thinking as well as doing.

And if you have a continuing employee, be intentional in your feedback about the intangibles more than you are about their concrete output. Praise displays of initiative and instinct. Course correct on minor deviations from what you’d like to see. Model the behavior you expect.

If an employee is not doing what you as their supervisor need them to do, the responsibility is on you to clarify the expectations and hold them accountable. Anything less is a failure of your performance, not theirs.

leadership dot #2825: first see

In their new book Leading with Gratitude, authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton write that there are two aspects to appreciation: seeing it and expressing it. “Gratitude is not just giving credit where it’s due, it’s knowing where it’s due,” they write.

People must cultivate the first skill of seeing opportunities to recognize before they are able to provide that feedback to others. They theorize that managers are often “hyper-focused on finding problems,” and as a result spend more time on what is going wrong instead of going right. Creating a culture of gratitude begins with seeing small wins and creating milestones that will provide reward markers along the way.

Once you see positive behavior, their mantra is “give it now, give it often, and don’t be afraid.” They point out that the championship trophy is given right after the game, not at the next practice or meeting. Immediately tying appreciation to action is a more powerful expression of gratitude than waiting, and, if it’s genuine, leaders can never give too much of it.

Think about on which side of the equation you need to be more intentional. Do you need to work on your “seeing” — paying more attention to what is working, who is making contributions behind-the-scenes or noticing progress along the journey? Or is your challenge “expressing” – taking the time to write a quick note, acknowledging someone’s behavior or publicly thanking a team?

Learning to lead with gratitude – as a manager, parent, coach or in any other role – is a skill that requires practice like any other. Strengthen your “seeing” or “expressing” muscles with a bit more intentionality today.

leadership dot #2814: magic

There are many magicians out there who can dazzle the audience with their sleight of hand, but few who are able to let others create the magic themselves. One exception is Justin Flom who talked James Corden’s audience – and the masses watching on television – through a trick with cards that allowed them to be the ones doing the dazzling.

Flom shared the instructions with the audience but allowed them to have control over the decisions. He never touched their cards and, in the end, the vast majority of the audience amazed themselves at what they did. It was even more impressive than watching someone perform a trick on stage.

I think this is what good supervision is like. You may have to set the parameters or give the instructions, but ultimately you allow others to create the magic on their own. You need to give up control and assume the risk that it may not work, but more often than not, it’s amazing.

Stop trying to be the one on the stage and instead empower those around you. Your ability to awe will multiply faster than rabbits can.


To do the trick, you need 4 cards per person that you will tear and render useless in the future. His whole segment is 10 minutes, but the audience-generated trick is at 6:08. Enjoy!